Those who defraud the state's unemployment insurance system could face harsher penalties under a bill approved Tuesday by an Assembly committee.
The bill would allow multiple violations to be considered as one crime. A person who knowingly falsifies information in order to obtain unemployment benefits would be subject to a range of penalties starting with a fine or several months' imprisonment and escalating, based on the total value of fraudulently obtained benefits, up to a Class G felony.
The proposal was introduced by Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem, and Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield. They argue the bill would deter those who would try to scam the system.
Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, a member of the Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform, said he recognizes the need to address instances of fraud, but argued increasing criminal penalties is not the best way to do that.
"I wish that we could roll up our sleeves and find a difficult and challenging and more thorough way of solving the problems that all of our constituents have. Increasing criminal penalties doesn’t work, it hasn’t worked and it won’t work in this case," Goyke said.
Supporters of the bill argue it's needed to bring penalties for unemployment fraud in line with other forms of theft.